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More Chicken

  I still haven’t gotten around to roasting that Julia Child Chicken, but my thoughts have been running to all things poultry lately. I blame my blog reader which managed to tear me away from my current obsession with sewing blogs back to my original love, food blogs with thoughts on chicken. Really the theme was established over the weekend when I watched Martin Picard disco ball cook a bunch of woodcocks, but then when poultry started showing up on the blogs…well that just got me thinking…and hungry.

 Maybe it was because I was hungry (more on why that is at a later date) but yesterday’s Serious Eats piece on Harold’s Chicken Shack had me ready to jump in the car to go to Chicago to get some fried chicken. Oh Papa Khan’s how I still mourn your loss. Does anyone have tips on where to go in Montreal for good fried chicken?

 Then my blog reader offered up chicken on the other end of the trashy/virtuous continuum of food: Heirloom chicken! I truly believe that factory farming is one of the great evils of our world so I paused to read (rather than scrolling past) Sara Elton’s article “Heirloom Poultry, the Un-Perdue” on going to a heritage chicken tasting (and it was in Toronto, which is, at least peripherally part of my universe, and so therefore not some fantasy food event that I could never go to). Read the article. It’s really interesting to hear how, much like heirloom tomatoes, heritage breeds taste different and better. Also, a chicken tasting!?

 I think my love of the idea of heritage food is seated in the idea that food tasted better when I was a kid. I know this has something to do with an aging palate, but I suspect it also has something to do with the food actually being more varied and complex back when I was a kid. Heritage breeds and heirloom varieties offer the hope of finding layers of flavour that seem to have gone missing from today’s factory farm produced/picked green/genetically odd food. I can’t actually say this is true of chicken, which I didn’t eat when I was a child (vegetarian), but I am still on the track of strawberries that taste like strawberries (not just smell like them) and tomatoes with the deep musky richness of the ones we grew when I was growing up.

 Now I need to ask my purveyors of chicken what breed of chicken they sell and if they’ve ever thought of supplying heritage breeds (they sell pigeon -weird kinds of chicken wouldn’t be a big stretch).

 As for Martin Picard’s wood cock episode (best use of the word “cock’ on the food network), as is often the case, I didn’t feel so inclined to eat the game, prepared head on, tied to tiny disco balls and roasted on Italian statuary, but when he traveled to the Jean Talon market and stocked up on produce at Frank Baldaserre’s stand he made a breakfast of polenta and eggs cooked in tomato sauce that looked amazing.  So along with driving to Chicago for fried chicken, and asking my butcher to start stocking heritage breeds of chicken, I also need to have people over for brunch!

Born RoundI recently picked up the book Born Round:The Secret History of a Full Time Eater by  Frank Bruni . I’ve previously enjoyed memoirs written by food writers and restaurant reviewers and Frank Bruni’s book is both a memoir and a description of his life as the food critic at The New York Times.    

Jeffrey Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must Have Been Something I Ate are responsible for getting me hooked on food writing and memoirs in general. I have read all of Ruth Reichl’s memoirs, and am still lamenting the end of Gourmet magazine, in part because it means no more lovely musings on food from her every month (though her twitter feed is kind of wonderful too). I adored Heat by Bill Buford`(what’s not to love about a story of obsession with Mario Batali and then with Italian food in general) and appreciated Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential (though I prefer his show No Reservations).   

So with those authors’ voices in my head (and trying not to think about Bruni as a bit of a bandwagon jumper) I picked up Born Round. I didn’t love it as much as some of my favorite food books, but I did read the book in less than two days and I thought there was a lot to appreciate. Not only was the story of his life and his problematic love affair with food interesting enough to pull me through the book, there was a lot to think about concerning the relationship between food and culture, food and weight, and for me anyway, the relationship between weight and gender and sexuality.   

My favorite parts of the book involved Bruni describing his first generation Italian-American grandmother and his non-Italian, but may as well have been, mother. The chapter where he describes, in the 2nd person, his mother’s thought process throughout the planning, execution and serving of an epic family Thanksgiving dinner was hilarious. When his mother muses to herself that the fact that there were only three sweet potatoes left in the bowl means someone might not have taken one because there weren’t enough left, and that next time she should prepare more (keeping in mind she has prepared more food than could possibly be eaten by anyone), I felt a ring of both truth and familiarity. I live in a house where one can of chickpeas in the pantry means we are “out” and a lack of leftovers means we didn’t make enough. He also describes his family’s propensity for having two kitchens (one upstairs for show and one in the basement where all the cooking really happens), and while I’ve never witnessed this phenomenon personally, I’ve been told by people close to me that it is actually fairly common.   

It’s little wonder, given his family’s obsession with food, that Bruni developes, early in  life, a tendency towards being round, and that given their concern with appearances that he is also obsessively concerned with his own weight. The first two-thirds of the book largely chronicle his journey from stocky teenager, to overweight adult. Towards the end of the book, but with plenty of time to still talk about his experiences as a restaurant critic,  Bruni manages to find some sort of balance. He loses massive amounts of weight through exercise, and while working in Rome, begins to realize that food can be as much about quality as it is about quantity. It’s clear that there’s still a struggle there, but he seems to have developed a healthy attitude towards food.   

The end of the book which chronicles Bruni’s tenure as restaurant critic is in fact the least interesting part of the book, though there is something fascinating about seeing how the whole process of reviewing works for Bruni.   

For me the fascinating part of the book was looking at the link between one’s  family’s experience and one’s own psychology. Bruni’s grandmother’s journey from Italy and her subsequent need to be accepted in her new homeland led, in part, to her emphasis on food and cooking. This emphasis is carried through a generation and Bruni links the attention he got through his early enthusiasm for food to his later struggles with self-control and his own weight. It’s not exactly the link I see in my own family, but inextricably linked to my love of food is a cooking grandmother who equated food with love and just as inextricably linked to my own issues with body image and weight is the clash of two cultures meeting in my own genetic code.   

It was also interesting to crawl inside a man’s head to look at the whole weight/food relationship. There are lots of books out there chronicling women’s struggles with their weight and their relationship with food ( I recommend Jen Lancaster’s Such a Pretty Fat which makes you laugh and I recommend not reading Valerie Bertinelli’s Losing It which doesn’t). His is not the straight male perspective, but it is different enough to keep the book from falling into what is both in print, and frustratingly often in real life, the cliché of womens’ dissatisfaction with their bodies.   

My holiday reading companions

Vampires and Chicken

A few days ago a close friend came over to watch a couple episodes of True Blood. She gave me the first season as a birthday present, but we’ve had a hard time finding the time to get together to watch it together. I thought I might sweeten the deal by linking supper to the show thematically. She lives in a vegetarian household, but is not herself a vegetarian. The show involves a lot of biting of living things and discussions of dead things, so I thought I’d offer meat so we could get into the feeling of the show. (Sensitive vegetarians might want to skip to the recipe for a salad dressing/marinade toward the end).       

I kind of pictured rare steaks and tearing the meat off of ribs (more werewolf than vampire I suppose) but as it turns out our first attempt at this wasn’t particularly bloody. I picked up a small chicken at Fernando, my favorite poultry place and decided to try going all Julia Child on it (the roast chicken coming out of the oven in Julie & Julia is one of my clearest memories of the film). As it happens, I was a little recipe following challenged and completely messed up the technique which involves lashings of  butter and frequent turning of the chicken. I salted too early, forgot to flip the bird onto its back and had the initial temperature all wrong. Luckily, roast chicken is a pretty easy thing to do, and thanks to the butter and the quality of the bird, it turned out golden and wildly tender. It wasn’t quite the crackley, golden wonder from the movie, but that one was likely created with a blowtorch. We consumed it off brightly coloured TV dinner styled plates with mashed potatoes, crappy iceberg lettuce and store-bought dressing salad and a simple gravy (Julia’s chicken gravy involves skimming the fat and then whisking in more butter. I wasn’t sure about the whole – taking the fat out, to then add more in thing, so just skimmed the fat and then mashed the carrots and onions into the juices to thicken it).       

It was tasty and satisfying, but I’ll have to have a go at the Julia style chicken on a day where I can follow directions. Since I can’t really reliably give you any feedback on the Julia chicken, besides to say that rubbing butter all over the chicken before roasting doesn’t do any harm, I’ll provide you with a recipe for my favorite way to make roast chicken. The one drawback is you can’t make old style gravy (with flour in the pan) because the juices are too salty, but the chicken itself tastes amazing.       

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Roast Chicken  

As I may have mentioned before, I was raised in a vegetarian household and so cooking entire animals has been a skill I’ve acquired later in my cooking life. It turns out that roast chicken is super easy and since people don’t do it much anymore, usually impressive for those in attendance (until you start carving that is).       

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees*       

Marinade**       

1/8 cup olive oil       

1/2 clove of garlic crushed and chopped       

Juice from 1/2 lemon       

1 tbs soy sauce or tamari       

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together until the different ingredients combine. Taste for salt and lemon adjust to your own taste. The salty/sourness of the marinade should be balanced.   1.5 Kg Chicken (the quality of the bird totally makes a difference. Most grocery store chicken does not, in my opinion, cook well, or sit well on the conscience)       

Wash the chicken in cold water inside and out and then pat dry. Remove anything that’s been left inside the chicken (I felt I’d kind  of come of age, meat wise, the first time I did that) and remove the neck  if it’s still attached(I use kitchen scissors, but a truly sharp knife will likely work too). Sprinkle the inside cavity with a little salt and put the other half of the lemon you just squeezed into the cavity ( I have never noticed this to have any discernable effect, but I like doing it anyway. If you have random fresh herbs like parsley or thyme or sage kicking around put those in too).       

a dish almost exactly like this one was the only thing that survived a house fire my mother and I were in when I was four.

 

If you are preparing the chicken well in advance of when you will be roasting it you can marinate the chicken. If like me, you don’t generally plan ahead that much, find a small oven proof pan to put the chicken in. Most roasting pans I’ve seen are far too big for a small chicken, so I just use a square corningware dish I have. Rough chop an onion and a carrot and put that in the pan (OK I stole this from Julia; it was nice). Put the chicken in the pan breast side (the puffy side) down and pour a good amount of the marinade over the chicken. Rub it in a bit. Put the chicken in the oven and after 20 minutes or so take it out and flip the chicken breast side up. Baste the chicken with the marinade and the pan juices. Cook for another 7 or 8 minutes until the breast starts to brown. Baste one more time and turn the oven down to 325.       

The chicken is done when the juices (which will come out if you pierce the skin) run clear. If that’s too vague a sign for you, then poke the chicken in a couple of places with a meat thermometer. When it reads 160 degrees to 165 degrees the chicken is probably done (30-45 minutes).       

Move the chicken to a large plate and let it rest for 5-10 minutes (you can tent it with foil or paper if you have a drafty kitchen). As I mentioned earlier, the marinade makes a traditional flour gravy kind of weird, so instead, push the vegetables to the side of the pan and tip the juices so the fat rises to the top. Skim  as much of the chicken fat as you can off of the surface. Take a potato masher and mash the carrot and the onion into the gravy. If there’s lots of browned bits in the pan, you can heat the pan up over  a burner and deglaze with a bit of lemon.  Adjust lemon and salt to taste.       

Once you’ve carved the chicken up (sorry no tips for you here, I’m terrible at this) pour a little of the gravy over it. I happen to like it on potatoes too, but that might just be me.       

* The roasting technique here comes from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. The down side is that the extreme heat at the beginning of the cooking can sometimes create a bit of a smoking issue in your oven (and a fire alarm problem when you open the oven to baste and flip the bird). I have a suspicion that the vegetables in the pan might mitigate this a bit. Also, Bittman suggests cooking the chicken on a v-rack. I have not ever found a small enough v-rack, for this to make sense, but if you have one, it keeps the skin on the bottom of the chicken from getting soggy. If all the flipping and basting seems like too much work, then just do what Nigella does and toss it in the oven at 450 for about an hour and fifteen minutes breast side up and then let it rest for 10-15 minutes.       

** If any vegetarians have made it this far, the marinade/salad dressing is great on baked potatoes and tossed with baked tofu or just about anything really. It’s salty, sour and savoury all at the same time.

Angel Food

I’m making an angel food cake right now. I’ve never made one before, which feels a little…I don’t know remiss somehow. When I mentioned it to a friend the other day she said “Oh yeah, I used to make those all the time when I was in highschool.” That made sense to me.  There’s something childlike about angel food cake. It’s not quite real food, more meringue than cake really, all those egg whites all that airy, billowyness. Then there’s the risk factor: they can fall, they need to be made in a special pan and hung upside down to cool ( I just stuck the side of my hot mit into my cake executing this move as it turns out – luckily the top of the cake will be the bottom and so no one will be able to see it!). The egg whites won’t whip if you break yolk into the whites, or if there’s any fat clinging to the beaters or in the pan. All of that part isn’t why I’ve never made one before, I think it really has something to do with the eggs. It seems like such a waste to make something that needs all those whites and none of the yolks. I occasionally make recipes that just use the yolks: mayonnaise, custard (more on ice cream another day), but they usually only need one or two, not 10, so I’ve never ended up with that quantity of egg white hanging around. I’ve thought of freezing the whites and building up a collection until I hade enough, but  I’ve never quite had the committment for that.

But the perfect conditions presented themselves this week. Last Sunday I was inspired to make the poppy seed, lemon cake from Smitten Kitchen. Over the past year I’ve fallen in love with Smitten’s writing and pictures. I haven’t made many of the recipes, but I’m fascinated by the cake making displayed there and the pictures are really lovely. I made the strawberry rhubarb pie this past summer in the midst of the only week that really felt like a vacation. The DC was in the midst of digging up the back yard, the weather was tropical (by which I mean it rained a lot and then when the sun came out it got steamy really fast and then it rained again), my heirloom tomatoes vines looked like they were mutating and I had dug out my mother’s old sewing machine to make this:. The pie was delicious (the crust was a little too flaky) and the week was lovely. I don’t know why that level of domesticity was so satisfying and relaxing, but it was a rare week of total satisfaction for me.

crackly surface of the cake

Hot muggy and satisfied are far away in this last week of vacation before the semester gets going again, but domesticity as a way of avoiding the work I need to be doing is always desirable right before school starts. Poppy seed lemon cake presented itself in my blog reader (which is mutating kind of like my tomatoes this past summer). I’m a huge fan of lemon cake and had a carton of eggs that needed to be used. The recipe calls for a whopping 8 egg yolks and left me with a whole cup of egg whites. I was assured on various websites that they’d be fine in the fridge for a while, so today: angel food cake.

As for the Poppy seed lemon cake, it needs more lemon. I realize this is entirely personal taste, but I like a lemon cake/loaf/pie/curd/whatever that makes you scrunch up your face and drool pucker up a little from the lemonyness. This cake only uses the zest of two lemons, and that slight whiff of lemon just isn’t enough for me (though I appreciate the idea of it). What is amazing about the recipe is the heavy hand on the poppy seeds. The cake is black with poppy seeds and they crunch and pop in your mouth like caviar. There’s a rich earthy, woodiness to the poppy seed which is really underutilized. Here’s a challenge for you (well Montrealers anyway) – the next time you go pick up fresh bagels at Fairmount or St Viateur, get the  poppy seed, not the sesame. Sesame is good, but the mysterious, foresty taste of the poppy seeds might surprise you. And if like me, you don’t usually get the poppy seed because they aren’t fresh, out of the oven hot, then just remember that that’s just because we all keep buying the sesame seed ones. If you’re wondering if the poppy seeds get in your teeth, I can’t say I noticed, I was too busy trying to catch them just right between my teeth so I could feel them pop, to look in the mirror.

 So now I just need to find an extra lemony lemon cake recipe and double or triple the poppy seeds. Jamie Oliver has his Gran’s lemon cake recipe in his book Cook. I’ve never tried any of his dessert recipes, so maybe it’s time. Besides I have two skinless lemons in the fridge I need to use up!

The final product

Here’s the Angel Food recipe I used: http://bakingsheet.blogspot.com/2005/06/best-angel-food-cake.html

Here are some other ideas for left over egg whites (including a volcano): http://www.davidlebovitz.com/archives/2007/09/recipes_to_use.html

I started this blog a few years ago, but quickly became distracted by new responsibilities I’d taken on at work. Having put those responsibilities behind me about four months ago, I’ve been thinking about getting back into the whole blogging thing.  I considered starting a new blog. I like the idea of a blog with one essential subject or theme as a reader, but as a person it felt limiting (I can’t put me in a box apparently). I wanted to write about hobbies I pick up and try, about my life, about a little bit of everything. At the same time I also wanted to start a more focused blog, a blog with a project, cooking or sewing my way through some tome a la Julie & Julia or this blog: http://www.blogforbettersewing.com/ (which is a current favorite of mine).

But the truth is, I spend a lot of time thinking about and dealing with food. I am as happy thinking and reading and talking about food as I am preparing, buying and eating it. I am also not a very disciplined or focused person, so a pre planned route for blogging likely wouldn’t work. I like that the title of this blog allows me to focus on food, but gives me room to “do other things” and most importantly it’s a blog about me and the closet exhibitionist in me likes that too.

When making New Year’s resolutions (ever since the wildly successful resolution I made to have more sex back in 2000) I try to stick to the fun and the frivolous. This year’s resolution is to wear more mini skirts, but hopefully you’ll see more of me back here too.

 Thank you to the people who enthusiastically supported the idea, and thank you too to the people who have gone out and done this very thing and made me mad because I wasn’t doing it too.

I’m week three into a new effort to not use my car for basic transportation needs like going to work or grocery shopping. It’s part of my “plan ahead for better mental, emotional and physical well-being” kick. I figure if I plan my meals ahead and only shop for what I’m going to need today and tomorrow at local, within walking distance, grocery stores somehow this will make my life better.The problem is I like to browse and graze while I shop for groceries. My grandmother had a reputation for going to great lengths for a bargain. I distinctly remember my father grumbling about driving all the way across town to save five cents on toothpaste (never mind that she may have been buying a suitcase worth to send to Cuba). And speaking of grazing she also used to fill a bag up with chocolate clusters from the bulk section of the grocery store and then eat them as she shopped. I’ve got a bit of the bargain chaser tendency myself, but I’ve taken it well beyond bargains; I’ll drive all the way across town for the “right” brand of chili powder (why is it so hard to find really nice chili powder in this town?). The thing is, I’m being encouraged in this behavior by the nonsensical stocking practices of the chain grocery stores in this city and it’s making not driving to get my groceries more stressful than I’d like.

Examples: While Loblaws carries the “sandwich saver” pickles (nice with cheddar and turkey on sourdough bread) I like, they don’t stock the spicy ones I like. IGA does however. IGA also seems to be the only store to stock the Chipits brand peanut butter chips, a favorite of my father’s wife. In many other ways however I dislike IGA. The P.A. grocery stores are the only ones who carry the sheep/cow’s milk Greek yogurt I adore as well as the best tzadziki in the city (my opinion). They also seem to be the only place to carry the sliced deli meat I like to buy for the D.C. as well as the sliced white bread made with olive oil instead of not (I vainly hope this will make it ever so slightly less crappy). I do most of my produce shopping at Adonis; in fact I can’t bear to buy the produce at the big name places and often the least expensive fruit juice. But neither of these wonderful stores is worth going to for householdy things like ziplocks or kitty litter. Metro, on the other hand has those things as well as Premiere Moisson bread that seems fresh (though why I can’t get it together to go to the actual Premiere Moisson stores is beyond me)  as well as Stash tea. In fact, the Metro out behind the college I work at is the only place I’ve ever found the jasmine green tea I like. Segal’s on St. Laurent carries an organic mint tea I love as well as the soy milk ice “cream” sandwiches the D.C. and I like. I try to only buy chicken at Zinnman’s on Roy St. because I don’t seem to be able to wreck their chicken no matter how ineptly I cook it. I’ve discovered milk in bottles at Hamel and my most recent (today) discovery is the Mediterranee yogurt whipped up and frozen and this I’ve only seen at the place in the Jean Talon Market that sells Quebec products and at the IGA around the corner. Only some supermarkets carry the fresh cranberry juice I like and it’s another one that carries the mango lemonade I try not to buy except for picnics. I like the President’s choice frozen pizza and no other (really for frozen pizza it’s not so bad) and I like to buy toilet paper in bulk at Costco….you get the picture.

The thing is, I think it would make me sad to just have one place to go to shop. Montreal isn’t terribly afflicted by the big box store plague, but it’s still a modern North American city with its chain grocery stores and name brands everywhere. While I’m still bewildered by the random brand selection at the different stores I kind of like that I’m forced to pick and choose and wander about the city finding what I like. It’s not quite the market in the town square, but it’s a lot more interesting than it could be. The D.C. continues to think I’m a bit touched, and sometimes to be honest so do I, because I just don’t seem to be able to shop in just one store, but somehow it turns the place I live into something more human when I treat it like it’s just one big marketplace.

Eating in a canoe

While some people think of hotdogs and marshmallows when they think of eating while camping, I’m afraid my experiences are otherwise. Growing up, one of my major food influences was my mother’s close friend (and my best friend’s mother) Sandra. Sandra taught me how to make a flakey whole wheat pie crust and just always seemed to be able to make healthy food taste that extra bit better. She’s also the person you want with you on a camping trip because she comes equipped. It’s the little things that make a difference when you’re camping, the person who not only brings the tea bags, but also brings the kettle. She always comes with a blanket for picnics, the grate for the fire (a shelf from the inside of the fridge) and the griddle to make pancakes. I’ve become so dependant on Sandra to bring the right stuff for cooking in camp, that when left to my own devices I often forget half the things I need.

Luckily, it turns out Sandra’s not the only consummate camp cook. This summer I was lucky enough to be invited on a four day canoe trip by my friend Adrian (along with three other people, Anne, Margaret and Philippe). Full of trepidation because it’s been sooo long since I was in a canoe I was barely able to get myself packed up with tent and sleeping bag and multiple pairs of socks in separate ziplock sandwich bags, let alone food. Luckily Adrian turned out to not only be able to carry a canoe on his head, he also packed for what has to be the most ridiculously gourmet wilderness outing ever. Our first night out, after a short (I’m not sure it was even 45 minutes) canoe trip to the first camping spot we had polenta with homemade bolognese, both traditional and vegetarian. Clever boy had frozen the sauce (Margaret and I almost left it behind in the freezer – luckily the giant post-it on the door caught Margaret’s attention on our way out) so it stayed cold and was perfect by the time we got to camp. Lunch the next day (which was eaten in a swamp les-boys.jpgwhile we waited for another group of canoers to get ahead of us so we could go back to belting out rock ballads and Annie tunes) consisted of Fairmount bagels with peanut butter and homemade raspberry jam (mine). The jam is good, but I have to say there’s nothing like watching people lick the jar to make me feel like I got the recipe right. Fruit to Go and weird Italian candies provided us with snacks and boy did the Fruit to Go taste good. That night it was cold and windy and rainy and I saw a four inch leech swim past in the lake. Overall it was kind of depressing and we were in mid transition between clean and dry to dirty and wet, but we weren’t feelin’ it yet so everyone was a little cranky, but our feelings were lifted by the gnocchi with pesto and olive paste.  Food from a tube never tasted so nice. We ended the evening with a somewhat class oriented game of asshole  and then we snuggled into our sleepingbags and thermarests to warm up (really it was cold). The next day (which was warmer, much better for Annie tunes) we had tuna sandwiches with white beans and canned corn with lemon – tres yummy. They totally made up for the clogged waterfilter taking an hour to get a cup of water out of the lake – beaver fever started to sound a whole lot better. When we made it to our final destination, a little damp and pretty satisfied with our dirty selves we were greeted with yet another downpour (that day it seemed like every time we portaged it rained) Portaging in the rain…againand then the most spectacular double rainbow ever. RainbowWe switched gears and sang the rainbow connection and then settled in to making camp and prepare for our final feast. That night we dined on campfire roti with porcinis and sundried tomatoes, fondue (of course what else would you do with those storebought fondue packets!!!?), baguette and smoked salmon. We all gave each other massages, refrained from spending another night in the tent playing asshole and had to eat the rest of the baker’s chocolate because we forgot to put it in the food bucket up the tree and you never know…bears. Next time let’s bring some of the 75% stuff and make potential bear attacks more worthwhile!

The food was amazing and the trip was magical. Nothing like spending time in a canoe with cute boys and good friends. canoe.jpgI can’t wait to do it all over again next year!!!!

Special thanks to Philippe without whom I never would have been able to get that grilled cheese!